By Levi Livengood
For many, the representation of minority groups in the media is a major concern, arising for many reasons and for different goals. There is a particular focus on LGBT, black, and asian representation, especially at Independence.
Movies grab plenty of attention, positive and negative. With regards to the topic at hand, there is particular concern. According to a 2015 study by USC Anneberg School for Communication and Journalism, women were just 30% of all speaking characters in the top 100 grossing movies of that year, whites were slightly over-represented at 73.1%, which is slightly larger than the current majority of whites in the US, which is 62.6%, and other minority groups were underrepresented when compared to the general population, with asians not featuring at all in the speaking roles of 40 movies, and finally, at least one LGBT person featured in only 14% of the films.
Many see this as a major problem, arguing that since the United States has a substantial plurality of minority groups, they should see more direct representation in the media. Some also see an agenda of sorts where Hollywood executives will deliberately seek out to have white actors play the main roles in a film, even if it means changing the character’s race, whatever their reason may be. Some point to the casting of Scarlett Johansson, a white woman, to the main role of Ghost in the Shell, which was an adaptation of an anime and manga of the same name set in japan.
Is this actually a problem? For many, the lack of diversity in Hollywood illustrates a past that has not been left behind, namely one of a white majority society dominated by straight men that is slowly evaporating and must share with the others in society in the name of fairness. For others this whole controversy is a non-issue and even overblown. For one, the lack of female representation in not universal, as they feature heavily in romance films. Likewise, the gap dramatically closes for other genres of film beside action. Some argue that this is less an act of discrimination against women, and more of a pandering to the main market for a film. Men enjoy action movies far more than women, and women vastly prefer romance to action. This does not illustrate a conspiracy per se, but more the fundamental differences between men and women.
But women are not a minority, what about the other groups of people? To start, it is true that there is overrepresentation and underrepresentation of the majority and minority respectively. The LGBT make up between 1-8% of the general population, so the statistics on their representation are not particularly grievous. Likewise the degree to which minority groups are generally represented in speaking roles does not vary more than 10%.
Where their concern is different is with regards to the leads of films. There is a clear overrepresentation of white, straight, males in this regard. Is it necessarily negative? Perhaps, though I take issue primarily where characters who are of a particular group are removed from that group and put into another for any reason. Some argue that it is good that white characters are made more ‘diverse’ because it aids in representation and helps to right old wrongs throughout the past century. Yet I strongly disagree with this position and find it hypocritical. If it is wrong to race swap minority characters, then we must say the same for majority characters if we are to recognize actual equality of these groups.
Another criticism is that the roles minority characters perform are not particularly flattering in many cases. Some point to the prevalence of muslim antagonists in the 2000s, representing terrorism. Others point to historical problems, such as black face or the general portrayal of blacks in films like The Birth of a Nation. I do think this criticism is valid where applicable. To be sure, the portrayal of many minorities has not been good now or in the past. I will point out though that the majority is not spared from negative stereotypes either. Everyone knows about the spoiled, rich, white girl stereotype that is prevalent in the media and even on this campus. Likewise, many minorities consider it a joke and insult to tell someone that they are acting ‘white’. If this is okay, then other negative stereotypes, where they are meant as a joke alone mind you, are also okay. I draw the line as soon as a stereotype is meant as more than a joke and paraded as a legitimate criticism against a group of people, white, black, asian, gay or straight.